Sunday, September 30, 2012

Methods & findings in swing dancing

In an Era, where certification is all that matters, it is so hard for self taught like myself to get any credibility in fields like fitness and nutrition. It’s alright for the moment though, for I have no intention to turn that knowledge into a business anytime soon, and if I do one day, I know I will need some monkey paper to prove I’m good. Well, that’s life in the 21st century.

The most useful certification I ever got was my degree in Ancient Studies. It sounds farfetched doesn’t it? Well, that degree was so difficult, du to a bunch of enthusiast over qualified teachers that it forced me to develop a learning method that works for me.

I have started martial arts and then swing dancing pretty much in the same period. It struck me right away, coming from a hardcore academic program, how unstructured and amateurish those fields were. Most of the talented dancers or martial artists I looked for to teach me had a hard time passing away their knowledge.

I eventually found decent teachers, but having developed a method in my earlier years is what served me the best. It become obvious to me what the basics were and that I had to work on them neglecting everything accessory. Fortunately, I never had a hard time managing my ego, so while people who started dancing about the same time I have were working on fancy stuff, I kept on working on the basics. Then when I’ve mastered them enough I moved to the fancy stuff and it became obvious to everyone that I have become an advanced dancer at that point.

This is about the time I started wondering about how they train in similar professional disciplines such as gymnastic, other form of dancing, circus, partner skating and so on. I was coaching a team with the Swinging Air Force back in those days, but the way they trained, mostly treadmill and machines, didn’t seem like something that will truly help me out.

My first clue was Pilates. If this is a well kept secret of the ballet dancers, it’s probably worth checking out. So, I taught my Pilates with books and videos. This is about the time P90X became very popular among star dancers.  I decided to give it a shot after a couple of months starting with the videos that develop abilities Vs. those that develop muscles. It worked great! This is why I will never spit on that program. It gave me a bunch of clues about athleticism and what I should work on. So, I focused mostly on core workouts, a lot of yoga, Pilates and mixed with Insanity workouts. This is also when I started noticing that Pilates seemed only to improve when mixed with other workouts which rang a big bell to me!

The drawback with such a regimen is that if you dance and workout 6 days a week, it becomes very taxing for the body. Studying anatomy, reading a lot of books, watching a lot of videos and surfing the web finally put my on the trail of strength training.

I finally discover that beside some cultural differences, this is how most of professional athletes are doing. They treat strength as any other skills they have to master to improve in their respective field. And the great news was, there is no such thing as a specific program depending of the sport you practice. Despite the different strength programs, theories and schools, the basic ideas are always there: low reps, heavy weights, lot of rest between sets and you should feel energized after your workout and ready to practice your sport. Forget about ‘’cardio’’, crunches, machines and other non sense. 2 or 3 big bang exercises such as deadlifts, squat, bench press, overhead press, pull ups or any of their variations is all that you need.

It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?  Well the major obstacle to success, especially in a world without anyone to guide you is yourself. Our fitness background tells every one of us that we should sweat, work hard and be sore after a workout and if we did a good job, we should even feel it for a couple of days. Even for someone as open minded as myself, it took me months to finally accept that I should do less and keep my workout very short and very efficient.

Guess what? It works! And the results were almost immediate. 8-10 weeks were all I need to note a real change in my athleticism, even while doing too much. I would move faster, jump higher and could throw my girls like never before for an incredible amount of repetition. How about my cardio? I got better as well! That is the beauty of it. What being stronger really means is that everything physical that used to be hard becomes tolerable and everything tolerable becomes easy. The stronger you get, the easier it becomes to do what you could not or barely could do before. Strength is a skill and should be treated as such. Plus, working out 3 days a week for 30-40 minutes or so and focusing most of your time on your dancing skills put all the pieces together.

Despite some adjustments I am still doing on my method, it seems to be surely what a professional swing dancer needs to differentiate himself from the others. As we often hear in the world of strength: ‘’at equal skills, the strongest opponent wins’’. It does sound better when talking about UFC fighters, however facts remain. The objective is not to be as strong as a power lifter, but simply stronger to maximize your other skills!

Fred Barbe
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